The day is dark when you awake. In complete honesty, it's nothing new, the black smog rolling off your pointed tower turrets. It doesn't surprise you. Neither does the occasional scream as a soul rushes past your cracked bedroom window; the house is just plain stuffy were you to close it.
No, none of this is new to you. Another long, long day in Hell. Yes, that's a capital H. When you're the devil, things get old fast. Really fast.
Like breakfast. Your morning tea boils over, staining the crisp, red suit you so painstakingly put on. It didn't do wonders for your thighs, so it's a relief to get off. The stains... Not so much.
The Hellhounds eat your bacon.
When the postman chucks the morning mail at your castle doorstep, you lift it with little enthusiasm. Another court case requesting your presence, along with a signed letter from the man in it. Harold. Not your first rodeo with him. No matter how often you told him he still committed murder, no matter how many paperclips he used, no matter how cool he might've looked doing it, he still killed one hundred people. On the dot. Multiply that by seven, and you might get close to the number of paperclips Harold used.
You keep sifting through the pile. It seems to grow more every day. Lists of new arrivals, the landscapers wanting their bill for your decorative lava fountains, and then one makes you pause. Stop in your tracks.
A child's messy handwriting, delicately looped and surrounded by sideways stickers of candy canes and reindeer. And your name. Front and center on the red and green striped envelope.
You slice open the top with your fingernail, carefully withdrawing the letter. Inside, there is twice as much holiday cheer and more stickers than Harold's paperclips.
I pormise that I have ben graet (many scribbles here, and then:) o.k. this year. Mom tels me my speling is better. She says I can right you becuase I got a star (several Christmas star stickers follow) on my homewrk. Here is my list:
-A doll, like Lilys but not with blond hair bcause that is vry ugly
-that is all
Love Kira (Heart, heart, heart)
Gently, you fold the letter and tuck it into your breast pocket. How had it been delivered? This wasn't your forte, your job, in the slightest. You hadn't even been aware of what time of the year it was. Last time you'd checked, it was July, which probably means that your fast past to the Bahamas has expired.
Pulling out Kira's letter, you scan the list again. A puppy... Your gaze instantly drifts to one of the Hellhounds, busily chewing at the remains of a poor soul in the corner. They don't look so bad, if you squint, maybe ignore their demon-like eyes...
No. Absolutely not.
The next item. A doll, except not blond. Because blond is- you roll your eyes here- very ugly. Fingering your own blond locks, you scoff in disgust. Kira wouldn't know beauty if it came to collect her innocent little soul.
That takes you back to the puppy. Surely, pet stores would be open this time of year. You wouldn't actually know. The Hellhounds are purebred.
You falter. Why are you even doing this? It isn't your line of work. You have things to do. Why should you give even one of Harold's paperclips if Kira receives absolutely nothing on her sticker-bathed Christmas list?
Before you are fully conscious of it, her letter is dangling over the trashcan. You are about to drop it in when you look around you for the first time. Around at the castle that still needs sweeping, the pile of mail you weren't even halfway through. That's just your personal business. That's not even including work-related activities.
Your eyes drift to the holiday cheer on her letter, and grudgingly, you nod. You need a vacation. Kira's just a convenient way to get it. That's all. That's the only reason you're doing it.
Gently tucking away her lovingly written note, you dial your butler on the landline. "Javier? Yes. Bring me my car."
The first destination: A pet shop.
The next: Kira's house. She'll have to deal with an unwrapped puppy. They don't fold neatly like Hellhounds do in confined spaces.
The Upper World in snowy when you arrive to Kira's hometown. It's a scraggly place, somewhere in Northern Canada. A place you've never even heard of, which means a great deal considering the souls you receive from everywhere else.
Its only four streets are lined with strands of flickering Christmas light, illuminating the fast-falling snow. The flakes sizzle as they touch your skin, sending up dancing tendrils of steam. Waving them away, you scan the shop windows, sidestepping passerbyes.
All of them stop to ogle at you, and you sigh. For a town this small, anyone new most likely guarantees that type of reaction. Presumably, the suit and lavish leather biker boots don't help your case. Or the soulless onyx eyes.
After the fifth pedestrian flattens themselves against a store, clutching their chest, you rub your forehead. "Could you please direct me to the nearest pet store? I have a terrible amount of work I must return to and this errand is taking up enough of my time already."
With a shaking hand, the middle-aged man points down the sidewalk. "On that corner there. Downstairs shop."
"Thank you, my good man." You try to shake his hand but he shies away and, failing to disguise the gesture as one of those cool finger guns the 'hip' kids do, you continue on.
The man, however frightened, was not a liar. As promised, a pet store awaits. A faint bell tings when you open the door, and you're greeted with the overwhelming aroma of urine and hairballs.
The young woman behind the counter trembles when she sees you but holds her ground. It's refreshing, so refreshing in fact you fix the leaky pipe in the corner of the room with a flick of your fingers.
"May I help you?" she squeaks out. "All pet food is half off for the holidays."
"Yes, yes. I would like to purchase a..." A quick glance at the letter. "A puppy?"
She nods, leading you to a kennel in the corner of the room while keeping a wide birth. "As you can see, we have many different breeds. Are you buying one for yourself or your..." Her eyes graze over you quickly. "Your child?"
"No, no. Just filling a request." You overlook the yapping balls of fur, their small paws pressed against the wire cage. One is curled in the corner, far milder than the rest, and you gesture toward him. "That one." He will do far less damage to your suit.
She nods, reaching inside to draw him out. Handing it to you, she says, "If you'll follow me, I'll give you your complimentary bag of puppy chow. We also have a wide selection of bedding."
Holding the squirming puppy, you listen to her rattle on about their deals. It is clear whatever initial shock surfaced at the sight of you is now replaced by the saleswoman she is. In minutes, all that is needed for Kira's puppy needs has been established and, bags and dog in hand, the woman stares at you expectantly for payment.
Sliding a single bone-crafted coin across the counter, you offer generously, "Keep the change."
You're out the door seconds later, leaving her stuttering self behind. The snow had begun to fall again, this time denser than the last, and the streets had cleared up significantly. The letter holds Kira's address on it and you follow it to a sagging mobile home on the edge of town.
Through the windows, you glimpse Kira and her mother, Christmas carols blasting through the grimy windows as they decorate their Christmas tree. You set down the puppy and all its needed essentials, finger brushing the doorbell.
At the last minute, you ring it before hurrying away, already calling to your car. The last thing Kira, or her mother needs, is to see you on their doorstep. No. The gift will be anonymous.
You're back in Hell before they even reach their door.
Left in the hotness and blackness of your castle, you release a breath, gazing down at Kira's letter. The smallest smile tugging at your lips, you pin it to your fridge. Task completed.
Turning back to the mail, you sift through it, your usual ball and chain already re-attached. Until a letter catches your eye. Stops you in your tracks.
Return address: Jimmy Franklin.
And your name, lovingly inscribed on the envelope, followed by several snowflake stickers. And the letter, addressed: